Tactics: Ballon d’Or running shows strikers on the slide

The list of nominees for the first ever FIFA Ballon d’Or award is unsurprisingly dominated by attacking players, but the latest odds show that it is creative midfielders and multi-faceted forwards, rather than out-and-out strikers, who continue to enjoy top billing in the glamour stakes.

Of the five favourites to win the award, only one – Diego Forlán – is a striker, and his goal-getting counterparts Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose and Asamoah Gyan can all be found towards the longer end of the betting. It confirms a growing trend. In the last five years in which the Ballon d’Or has been awarded, Thierry Henry (third in 2006) and Fernando Torres (third in 2008) are the only classic strikers to have made it onto the podium.

The contrast with the previous five years is telling. Between 2000 and 2005, strikers Michael Owen (2001), Ronaldo (2002) and Andriy Shevchenko (2004) all won the award, with Shevchenko finishing third in 2000, Raúl coming runner-up to Owen in 2001 and Henry taking second place behind attacking midfielder Pavel Nedvěd in 2003.

Clearly, to draw any strong conclusions from something as unscientific as an end-of-year award would be foolish and, indeed, the number of strikers on this year’s shortlist (six) is only marginally less than it was in 2000’s top 23 (seven). What seems apparent, however, is that pure marksmen are being quietly superseded by versatile attackers such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who, despite scoring with astonishing frequency, habitually attack from withdrawn roles on the flanks and for whom the umbrella term ‘forward’ is just about the only positional designator that can be applied with any accuracy.

Forlán, David Villa, Thomas Müller and Ballon d’Or favourite Wesley Sneijder finished neck-and-neck (-and-neck-and-neck) in the race for the World Cup Golden Boot, but Forlán occasionally played behind Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani in Uruguay’s 4-3-1-2, Villa scored all his goals while playing from the left for Spain, Müller was deployed on the right side of a 4-2-3-1 for Germany and Sneijder played as an advanced attacking midfielder. In club football, Ronaldo normally plays on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 for Real Madrid, with Messi typically playing either from the right or as a ‘false nine’ in Barcelona’s 4-3-3.

Of the players that didn’t make the shortlist, Diego Milito’s absence was the most perplexing and his consistently decisive 32-goal haul for Internazionale last season proves that the penalty box predator is far from obsolete. Nevertheless, the number nine shirt is no longer the prized garment it once was.

9 Responses to “Tactics: Ballon d’Or running shows strikers on the slide”

  • Jid:

    Amazing that, for all Andy Gray and Richard Keys’ pedalling re: The Premiership being the Holy Grail of European leagues. Only Didier Drogba, Asamoah Gyan and Cesc Fabergas are included in the Ballon d’Or nominees. With La Liga sitting pretty on 11, the Bundesliga with, Serie A with 4 and The Premiership holding on to their coat-tails with 3. Is the Premiership a league in decline?

    • Having the best players and the best teams doesn’t necessarily make Spain the best league. Ten of La Liga’s 11 nominees now play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Not much competitive balance there. In fact, it’s in danger of turning into SPL South.

      Although I can’t imagine Sky deploying the ‘crap but fun’ defence of the Premier League.

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  • hwk:

    the list always consists of a hand full of favorites and the rest is … the rest.

    Schweinsteiger, Gyan, etc. really? BEST player of the world? really?

    Xavi, Eto’o and some others are one class above the “average” great football player.

    Premiership is maybe the most watched European league outside of Europe and a lot of “small country” managers judge the fact that the Premiership is “soooo huge”.

    • hwk:

      Klose is one of the big jokes. His season at Munich war awful. His World Cup was good (maybe great), but we have seen better players in South Africa.

      • Mani:

        I think that Klose is massively under-rated. His all-round game is brilliant. He’s renowned as a heading specialist, he has a lethal finish and his link up play is very good. His movement is fantastic. He’s capable of holding up defenders and drawing them out of position while at the same time playing as a poacher who pops up out of nowhere to grab the goal.

        He was excellent at the World Cup, I thought.

        As a player I think he’s good enough to make the list, but in terms of form over the past year I agree that it’s not really fair to put him in when he did hardly anything during the domestic season.

  • hwk:

    Don’t get me wrong.

    Klose is great. But his Bundesliga season was far from good. And a hand full of great games in South Africa is not (or should not be) enough to join this list.

    Klose is really good for the national team and I hoped for his 15th WC goal. But in Munich? (of course van Gaal want different football from him.)

  • Its a very good point and demonstrates really on now who we look to as the game changes in modern football.

    It was disappointing not to see Milito, maybe he still suffering from being unfashionable? 32 goals and a CL winners medal surely he should have beat Gyan of Sunderland to the shortlist?

    But I think the noticeable absent as much of a horrible personality he is but Ashley Cole. Is there a better LB in the world?

  • […] use of their ability to come inside and shoot at goal with their stronger right feet. As the voting for the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or confirmed, the versatile forward has well and truly usurped the goal-getting striker in the […]

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